India’s second largest city, Calcutta, aka Kolkata, is vibrant, cultural and incredible frenetic! Kolkata is nicknamed the ‘Cultural Capital of India’ thanks to a rich diversity of Bengali film, music, dance and theatre. As you’d expect from the former capital of British India, there are fine examples of colonial architecture and interesting historical sights. Kolkata also has a growing wealth; evident in its burgeoning restaurant scene, shopping malls and international hotel chains.
Victoria Memorial Hall
Under the British Raj, Kolkata in west Bengal state, served as the capital city until 1911. And the British have left their mark in the architecture, the most notable of which is the magnificent Victoria Memorial Hall. Built to honour the diamond jubilee in 1901 of Victoria Empress of India (Britain’s Queen Victoria), it wasn’t finished for 20 years, after Victoria had passed away. Set in a vast well-manicured park, the white Makrana marble is reminiscent of the mighty Taj Mahal further north. Built in Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture, the hall contains rare colonial-era memorabilia and the hall is lit up each night with a sound and light show.
The exquisite Belur Math Shrine is absolutely striking, thanks to a fusion of architectural styles (pictured below). Encompassing 4 temples it represents Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist, Rajput and Christian styles. The building serves as the Ramakrishna Mission headquarters and sits within well-tended gardens of palms and lush lawns. Set on the banks of the Hooghly River, Belur Math promotes religious harmony and sits within the same complex as the Dakshineswar Kali Temple which was built in 1948 in honour of Shri Ramakrishna.
Street food in Sudder Street
Home to cheap colonial backpacker hotels, Sudder Street is akin to Khao San Road in Bangkok. In the Esplanade district at the heart of Kolkata, Sudder Street’s main draw is the variety of authentic street food on offer. the poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote here and British TV chef Rick Stein filmed here for his new BBC TV Series; Rick Stein’s India.
South Park Street Cemetery
In downtown Kolkata lies the serene South Park Street Cemetery. With around 1,500 ornate European graves, it’s a fascinating insight into how the British lived in India during rule. The cemetery features neoclassical temples, impressive pyramids and Greek-style pillars. Buy the guidebook from the gatekeeper for a small fee. Watch the video below for an insight.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Another colonial-era piece of remarkable architecture is St Paul’s Cathedral, which is a copy of the Bell Harry Tower within Canterbury Cathedral. Redolent of British churches and cathedrals of the period, St Paul’s was completed in 1847 and features the omnipresent stained glass windows with the Gothic style structure. This is also the largest cathedral within Kolkata and is set beside the Victoria Memorial.
The Jadu Ghar, aka Indian Museum on Chowringhee Road is rather old fashioned but offers some interesting exhibits. Set inside an Italian palace which was built in 1877, there are some curious exhibits too. Like the array of pickled human embryos and the complete whale skeleton. There are also fossils, statues, Buddhist art, ornaments and an Egyptian mummy.
The passion for cricket comes alive at Eden Gardens. The main cricket league within India is the Indian Premier League and the Kolkata Knight Riders, the local team, play their matches at Eden Gardens. With a maximum capacity of 90,000, the atmosphere is electric and the stadium plays host to international fixtures within the cricket Test, One Day and Twenty20 matches.
The palatial mansion of the Marble Palace was built in 1853 and has a faded grandeur. It’s considered the most elegant and oldest mansion of its type in Kolkata. Filled with sculptures, paintings and ornaments, it’s a fascinating insight into how the Europeans lived in old Calcutta. Descendants of the original owners still call this home and as such visitors need to get permission to visit from either the local or international tourism authority.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are several notable landmarks in Kolkata like the Calcutta Medical Cottege, Howrah Medical Station, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. There are also several breathtaking landmarks, like the Howrah Bridge, which illuminates an ethereal purple light every night. If you haven’t travelled in a while, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that you have the option to utilize the internet when booking a place to stay in Kolkata. Not only is this method incredibly efficient, but it can also save you some money.